As urban pollution alerts around the world become increasingly common, tourists are beginning to add the term ‘clean air’ to search criteria when researching holiday destinations. In China, online keyword searches for ‘smog escape’, ‘lung cleansing’ and ‘forests’ have tripled, according to China’s largest e-travel site, Ctrip. The Smog Escape Travel Ranking report found that in December 2016, when officials from 22 Chinese cities issued a five-day pollution red alert, about 150,000 Chinese holidaymakers booked trips abroad to evade the problem.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that to avoid harmful pollutants, travellers are increasingly cancelling their excursions to urban destinations when pollution levels soar. ‘Several times guests have checked out and fled Beijing this year due to the heavy pollution, or cancelled their bookings if there is wide news coverage abroad,’ Michael Horsburgh, general manager at Crowne Plaza Beijing Wangfujing, told Skift.
The popularity of destinations such as Iceland and Antarctica, which are sparsely populated and therefore relatively untouched by pollution, has grown among Chinese tourists over the past few years. Iceland has benefited from an extra 34,000 Chinese visitors between 2014 and 2016. Although the trend is new, interest could be turning away from traditionally popular city destinations that have pollution problems, such as New York and London, and towards cleaner travel areas.
To ensure future interest in city travel destinations, hospitality brands need to consider their role in fostering pollution-free environments. ‘A hotel’s product is its environment,’ says Richard Hassell, a principal at Singapore-based WOHA, architects for Oasia. The recently opened Oasia Hotel Downtown in Singapore has 21 plant species that cover the building’s entire external structure. Located in the city’s business district, the edifice was designed to offset the lack of local green spaces, providing a service that not only directly benefits the hotel’s guests, but also creates a cleaner eco-system for all.
As brands think more about their role in battling the harmful effects of pollution, the rhetoric around travel will evolve and clean air will be increasingly viewed as a commodity. Although not a travel brand, Canadian start-up Vitality Air is an early example of this shift. The brand has found its niche by bottling pure Rocky Mountains air, which it presents as a more cost-effective alternative to overcoming pollution than air travel.
Technology will provide the next opportunities for brands to commoditise pollution-free travel. In London, AirLabs recently launched clean-air bus stops, which it claims filter ambient air, removing 95% of pollutants to create a clean-air bubble. While these bus stops only eliminate pollution in a very targeted area, they show potential for the next iteration of the can-of-clean-air phenomenon, in which brands could present anti-pollution environments as the next travel destinations.
For more information about how pollution is fast becoming a key concern among consumers, read the rest of our Smog Life series.